The power brokers of Trenton’s political establishment—the syndicate that gave us 20 years of Douglas H. Palmer, but no durable solutions to the city’s long-simmering socioeconomic decline—has normalized the abnormal.
The result: African American Trentonians—the powerful
and neglected voting block that comprises more than 50 percent of the city’s
population—have no idea how to select and appraise candidates for mayor. What’s
more, we don’t appear to understand the gravity of Trenton’s
economic crisis or the superhuman leadership and myriad coalitions needed to
reorganize city government and upend an expensive, underperforming Trenton
Public School District. We need to do both.
We seem unable to see beneath the surface of the
individual. We are so easily seduced, even hoodwinked, by a certain
species of African American politician—the homegrown, self-anointed,
self-inflated, counterfeit candidates who arrive at our front doors, our
cabarets, our church services with a worn-out lexicon of campaign rhetoric.
They claim to have a “vision” or a “secret plan” to “change the direction” of
the city and establish “a new paradigm.”
We do not ask the hard questions or demand better answers.
We give these so-called leaders, who covet power, the brilliant veneer and
adoration that come with being mayor, our trust. Emotionally and completely, we buy into
their phony promises: “Trenton
needs new leadership” and “let’s make Trenton
an epic center.” Once these ciphers capture our support, our vote and our
limited funds—and then the office—they quickly forget who they are working for.
More than two years ago, Tony F. Mack, smooth on his feet,
replete with questionable relationships, rubber checks to pay campaign workers
and a boatload of personal debt, ascended from a nebulous public policy record
to Trenton city government’s
highest office. Mr. Mack did this with no plan to govern, with a private
disdain for good government and a hatred for the Trenton Police Department. He
has since starved the Trenton PD of the necessary resources to respond to a
wave of shootings, robberies, car thefts and burglaries.
He became Trenton’s
first black mayor, according to the “dis our hood” crowd who worked the streets
to help get him elected. This is the same faction of Trenton’s
black community that fought the effort to recall Mr. Mack from office last
year. As ridiculous as it sounds, there are a great many black Trentonians who
believe that Mr. Palmer, who is light-skinned, wasn’t black or black enough.
Therein lies the need to elevate black thinking.
These racially immature people whose repugnance for anyone
white running for mayor since Carmen Armenti was jettisoned from the office in
1990, enabled a woefully unqualified Mr. Mack to defeat Manny Segura, a Latino
from the Dominican Republic, in the 2010 runoff election. Segura
has since dismantled his relevance, particularly to Latinos in Trenton,
receding into the abyss by exiling himself to Perth Amboy.
Several weeks ago when I reached Mr. Segura by telephone, he
was frustrated by Trenton’s
inability to see past the color of a candidate’s skin. He also asserted that Trenton
had lost out on $150 million in private investment because voters failed to
elect him. Although I paid little attention to the 2010 mayoral race, I do not
recall reading any news stories about Mr. Segura’s plan to attract that level
of investment to the city. I found this part of the conversation troubling
because I simply did not believe him.
What confounds me is that despite all of the progress and
contributions African Americans have made to the American experience, here in Trenton,
the thinking among black voters has not evolved. We won’t consider a candidate
who does not resemble us—including a woman, black or otherwise.
deputy city clerk Cordelia Staton, who is black, and North Ward Councilwoman
Marge Caldwell-Wilson, who is white, are two women leaders with strong mayor
potential. Unfortunately, misogyny is another defect in Mr. Mack’s government.
Ms. Staton, who is a former city councilwoman, was fired in an undignified and
cowardly way, during her lunch hour. Ms. Caldwell-Wilson, a highly effective
council member, has had some unpleasant interactions with Mayor Mack.
In July, when a platoon of FBI agents wielding search
warrants raided Mr. Mack’s home, and those of his surrogates, including City Hall, as
part of a federal probe that began shortly after he took office, I talked to
numerous black Trentonians who believed that “whitey” was trying to take a
“brotha” down. They thought that evidence was quietly being manufactured to
expedite Mr. Mack’s removal from office. These dummies, many of who are
Black Trentonians who claim to love the city should be
offended by this nonsense. Instead, delusion and denial in this modern age of
race and politics, this devolution of black thinking; the attitude that “Doug
did it, now it’s our turn to get ours,” continues. And the city is paying
dearly. Trenton municipal
government is remarkably dysfunctional, corrupt, underfunded, lacking
institutional knowledge, ratables and human resources.
under the weight of its own collective ignorance. It’s time for the black
community to take a good look in the mirror and accept responsibility for its
role in the city’s spectacular nosedive. Yes, whites have played a key part,
too. I get that.
But the time has come for black Trentonians to dispense with
the old yardstick for choosing mayoral and council candidates and embrace a new
mindset, one that can recognize a cadre of courageous leaders capable of
establishing a culture of excellence and execution that will produce the
policies to save our city.
Michael A. Walker is a city activist who blogs about his
dissatisfaction with the performance of Trenton
city government. His radio show, Slipstream, airs every Thursday at 5 PM on WBCB 1490 AM.